Dear White Evangelical, Part II: I Am A Double-Agent (A Personal Letter) by Jennifer Bell

Jun 26, 2020

A Note From The Editor: This piece does not represent any formal or official position of RCC. This piece is written by one member.


Please don’t let this historic moment slip away from us . . .

 For the longest time, I’ve been leading a double life. But now, Covid-trapped and politically-charged, I’m thinking, I’m not gonna live this bifurcated existence one more second!

In my head, I really do use the word bifurcated.

I am, pretty much, a double-agent.

I’ve separated my identities. I’ve appeared publicly as writer, writing in a secular literary world. I wrote in my last book, my first nonfiction book, about my dash to the atheistic and agnostic and nihilistic and “spiritual”-but-not-religious writing circles, so it seems unnecessary and redundant to explain it again—but the big reason was that “Christian Art” kinda sucked, and I wanted to be associated with the godless but great writers of the day. Their books were just better.

Simultaneously, and mostly, I’ve lived in Christian circles, though. Church. Daily bread. Bible. That’s my lingo; those are my people.

 I thought, frankly, if I let the Writing World know my true identity, I’d lose my writer street cred. I’d never write that international bestseller. I’d never get called the American Elena Ferrante. But I realized with the publication of And So We Die, Having First Slept in 2018 (I was holding onto my fantasy as late as 2018!) that no one was gonna call out to me, American Elena! American Elena! American Elena! And I started loosening up, revealing my unpopular—ghastly unpopular—Christian beliefs. I hesitantly stepped out to acknowledge my worldview. It wasn’t as if I were going to jeopardize any book sales, after all! Jennifer Spiegel is Jennifer Bell.

 Christians have rarely been my “fan base,” but I spend quite a bit of my literary time discussing a “Candor Aesthetic.” Perhaps, I need to embrace my own ideals.

 I wrestle, in truth, with what has repelled my Christian audience. I attribute it to a few key things:

·      I cuss a lot. I LOVE CUSSING!

·      My politics.

·      According to my daughter (and this is a new one to me!), I’m not one of those “Pinterest Moms.”

But the funny thing is, or it’s funny to me, I wasn’t exactly regarded well in Christian circles prior to my writing life. I guess I always attribute my lack of high regard to my literary fiction, which is often pleasantly referred to as “raw.” (I’ll take “raw” over “saccharine-sweet” or “inauthentic” any day.) Why, though, that early disdain, when I had yet to even write those crazy scenes about marriage or expatriates or New York?  I don’t even think I cussed yet! I mean, no one actually knew I was this pent-up writer of stories about unruly types! I bet it had to do with one of these:

·      I went to rock concerts.

·      I began to flip out about the role of women in the church early on.

Say no more. It was that. I forgot! It was the Woman Thing!

And then I became a writer who said the F-word and I opposed Trump!

 How could I forget?

 Here we are now, in 2020, and everything I just said is a precursor to what I really want to say now, if you’re still reading. I’m very, very, very concerned about where we—Christians—are going in this historic moment. Tensions are so high. People are on edge. Slogans are echoing. Dead bodies are on the streets! We wear masks and stand up to the police and mock the president. I know I’m alarmist and a downright looney-tune, but give me a moment to speak from my place as a double agent! I got things to say! AND MAYBE I’M IN A UNIQUE SPOT!!!! I get to see things from both perspectives? I mean, sure my Christian friends can easily dismiss me as worldly. I know this. I’m not like other moms, my kids tell me all the time. But I also—oft enough—get a glimpse at nuances, subtleties of words, gestures, tones.

Dear White Evangelical, I Am A Double-Agent and You Mustn’t Withdraw From This Historic Moment.

I only offer food for thought . . .

1.     I know that the official Black Lives Matter stance doesn’t mesh well with Christian orthodoxy. I’m not going to bend over backwards to make it work for my Christian friends. However, I might continue to urge you to make those words ours. Words are valuable. They’re the very tools of my trade. And I can unequivocally stand behind those three words: “Black Lives Matter.” These words have taken a life beyond the organization from whence they came. I understand the difficulties; I really do. But choosing to say All Lives Matter is just not going to cut it. As with so many things (and I direct this at myself too), choose your battles wisely.

2.     Similarly, I say this hesitantly because I know some of my beloved friends disagree, I can’t stand behind the call to “Defund The Police.” My reasoning, I hope, is similar to why I CAN say, “Black Lives Matter.” Words are valuable. I understand that this slogan is said to be misleading, and it actually means a reallocation of resources—but I cannot personally take on that wording. While I know that Black Lives Matter in all contexts without qualification, I do not believe that a call to defund the police can be said without qualification. Yikes!

3.     Well, we’re still talking about the value of words! I know that many Christians are getting hung up on the word “systemic.” I think I might say that this is a problem in miscommunication? Maybe? By suggesting that racism is systemic in America, most of us are NOT attacking the Constitution. Rather, we’re lamenting the failures of its constituents. There is a very big distinction here, and this is why American racism is unique. We have these freakin’ awesome documents in place! We systematically fail to live up to them. In ironic weirdness, one of the best explanations I’ve seen of systemic racism is from the Veggie Tales guy. Go here. It seems to be as if evangelicals get very defensive about perceived attacks on the Constitution. I’ll own up to the attacks on the Founding Fathers; it happens. This, though, does not warrant dismissal of the word “systemic.” I know, quite well, that I do not want my books, my Art, my words to be judged according to who I am as a woman. I want them to be read independently of who I am.

4.     Okay, so I delicately approach history. First, let me say that I’m hesitant to do what I originally did—with my own children in tow. I’m not going to lie to you. I’m hesitant to join a protest, to march, to call out police brutality (and I am 100% for reform)—because I’m skittish about the associations with shady agendas or violence or calls to dismantle the whatever. I’m no CHOP-exile (Chop? Chaz?). However, I am not hesitant to reconsider history. Those Confederate statues? I’m for peacefully and formally removing them, and I’d be fully on board for the creation of a museum using tax dollars to house these relics of American history. They do not need to be defaced or destroyed, but they do not need to stand in parks or near town squares either. I hear complaints about “erasing history.” I don’t think that needs to be validated. Neither does criminality.

5.     So, while we’re on the topic . . . Aunt Jemima. I saw some yesterday on the shelves at Fry’s, and I considered buying one to keep—and I stood there for a few minutes, in my mask and steamy glasses, trying to figure out if that would be some psychotic racist act like hiding a KKK hood in my closet or would it be a historical keepsake. Then, I thought, I like organic syrup from Trader Joe’s anyway, and I moved on . . . With all due respect, I believe it has to go. Despite the real woman hired by the white corporate execs to represent Aunt Jemima, the character was wholly based on a racist stereotype.

6.     Oh, but there’s more! The Dixie Chicks? I have no clue. They’re country, right? I only do Johnny Cash . . .

7.     The Confederate Flag should be removed.

8.     But still, I’m not a fan of “Cancel Culture,” and I hope there’s consistency in my politics. I can separate the fallibility of the Founding Fathers from the brilliance of the U.S. Constitution. I can separate the fallibility of artists from their art—and this is super controversial in my secular literary world. (I’ll read writers who have been cancelled-out in the #MeToo Movement—not all, and not without qualification. However, I risk being “canceled” myself as a writer when I admit that I’ll still watch Aziz Ansari doing comedy and I’ll still read Sherman Alexie. But I’m done with Bill Cosby. Go figure.) I understand, all too well, that lousy people can produce amazing things. And WE NEED TO DESPERATELY DO SOMETHING THAT I DON’T SEE SECULAR SOCIETY DOING AT ALL: TALK ABOUT REPENTANCE AND FORGIVENESS. Right now, secular America is going nuts on sin. And there is NO redemption. Where is the Church in this? Understand the condemnation, but offer hope and forgiveness.

9.     I am scared that Cancel Culture is going to wreak havoc on my beloved favorite show, “The Office.” I’m just waiting for it. And then I’ll deal with that. Not Michael!

10.  Oh, man. This “Cancel Culture” stuff is difficult. As a writer and prof, I’ve been reading criticism of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin for decades (no joke). I’m here to tell you that this book, written by a white woman from the north in 1852 and criticized endlessly for its stereotypical representations of subservient Black slaves, probably did more than any other book up until I read Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn to convince me that racism was unequivocally wrong. I love it, and I’ll defend it.

11.  About Trump. Listen, I’m not a fan. But I’m not interested in seeing the Christian community get derailed by partisan politics or weird allegiances. I can write on and on about Trump, about rallies, about Gen Z vs. Gen X, about the election . . . but I’d like to beseech Christians to not let the murky secular glomming of one issue onto another GET IN OUR WAY. Let’s seriously tackle racism right now!

I end where I began: Dear White Evangelical, I Am A Double-Agent and You Mustn’t Withdraw From This Historic Moment.

We need to address racism, and we need to discuss repentance and forgiveness.